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A Sense of Community
She dreams often of what had been the most peaceful place in her life. It’s not her only nightmare but it’s the one she wakes up from with the taste of poison in her mouth and bitter nostalgia for things not lost but maliciously destroyed. Once, but only once, she had tried to explain it to her boyfriend. There was well-meaning incomprehension. An effort to help what couldn’t be helped.
She had lost friends when the bots had destroyed what they had built. “You can talk with them again,” he had said. Yes she could. No she couldn’t. She did not try to explain that they were them in the place, in the togetherness and the rhythm and the unspoken language behind the words, jokes that needed not be told, rules that were like breathing and tides. To talk with them elsewhere would be to talk with somebody else. You could make friends with a revenant, perhaps, but it wouldn’t be a friendship brought back.
With the friends and the words she had lost part of herself too. This she never tried to explain to her boyfriend: she had lost nothing he had known, nothing that anybody had known outside the place that no longer existed. So she rereads old archived threads to remind herself of who she was, swearing to herself to stop before the time of the bots and trolls — she had never learned to distinguish between them and in her least merciful thoughts she knew there was no difference — and always reading too much anyway. The forum that had been her lifeline and that of a dozen friends falls faster in her rereading. Faster, not less painfully.
She only stops reading at the moment she stopped posting to the forum: she had been the last one to leave, long after it had become as toxic as the places and people it had been a refuge from.
There had been other places since then. Other people. If she had never felt the same – wasn’t that the nature of time? She wasn’t the same herself. People changed. Perhaps the forum had been changed by memory, too, and what she had lost was as much what she had as what she had wanted to have had. What she wished she had and could be.
(But in every new place bots and trolls arrive sooner and hungrier, often simply there before her. And sometimes her boyfriend has a word, a turn of phrase, and she tastes poison while wide awake.)